Buzzard licence applicant gets High Court approval for judicial review

BZThe following statement has been issued by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation:

High Court Grants Gamekeeper Go-Ahead To Challenge Natural England

Tuesday 25th Nov 2014

A gamekeeper has been given permission by the High Court to proceed with a claim for Judicial Review against the Government’s wildlife licensing authority, Natural England (NE). The self-employed gamekeeper had applied for a licence to control buzzards attacking young pheasants on a small game shooting enterprise he runs for local farmers in Northumberland. NE acknowledged that the birds of prey were causing serious damage but refused to issue a licence under the well-established licensing process approved by Parliament for use in such circumstances.

The Honourable Mrs Justice Thirlwall DBE gave permission to proceed with the claim for Judicial Review on the basis that it was arguable NE had been inconsistent and unreasonable in refusing the licence. The case will now proceed to a full hearing which is likely to take place in the first half of next year.

Ricky McMorn, the self-employed gamekeeper seeking the buzzard control licence, may go out of business and lose his livelihood if a licence is not forthcoming. He said:

“This is a real David and Goliath situation. I am having to battle the might of the state in the form of Natural England to protect my birds and my job. They admit I’ve got a problem and agree that I have done everything I can but still they won’t give me a licence. It’s unfair and it’s wrong. Hundreds of other people get licences to kill protected birds every year.”

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects all wild birds but it also allows for control licences to be granted for certain purposes. One of these is the prevention of serious damage to livestock including, specifically, gamebirds kept for the provision of shooting. Before any such licence can be granted by NE strict tests must be met – including demonstrating that the damage being caused is indeed serious and that there is no other satisfactory solution. Where these tests are met, however, a licence cannot be unreasonably withheld.

Whilst refusing this licence, in earlier considerations of the case NE has accepted that:

  • the damage being experienced is serious;
  • buzzards are the main cause of the pheasant deaths;
  • Mr McMorn has done all that can reasonably be expected of him in scaring off the buzzards and otherwise protecting his pheasants;
  • removing a small number of buzzards from the site would not compromise the species’ conservation status.

There are now over 300,000 buzzards in the UK and numbers are booming. The population has undergone a four-fold increase during the last forty years according to The State of UK Birds 2014, published on behalf of Natural England by the RSPB.

To prevent damage to fisheries, NE regularly issues licences under the same system to kill many thousands of cormorants each year – up to 20% of the UK population. Cormorant numbers peak at around 41,000 birds in the UK, compared to 300,000 buzzards.

NE also allows buzzards to be killed at UK airports and it has, in the recent past, allowed a free-range poultry farmer to trap and remove buzzards causing serious damage to his chickens. This is in sharp contrast to applications made by gamekeepers, where no licence to kill or remove buzzards has ever been granted.

Mr McMorn’s case is being supported by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO), which believes strongly that the law and due process should always be followed. The NGO’s spokesman said:

“This case is about a gamekeeper who is trying to do the right thing within the law to address a real and serious threat to his livelihood. NE has a duty to administer licensing fairly, yet the facts speak for themselves. Extensive discussions with NE about solving our member’s problem and saving his job have got nowhere. It is time to let the High Court decide whether NE has been acting in accordance with the law.

“Fair and proper implementation of the longstanding licensing system is essential, not only to the wellbeing of the countryside and those who work there but also ultimately to its wildlife. If expanding predatory species become problematic but people are denied access to the existing legitimate solution, the risk of mavericks undertaking indiscriminate, illegal activity will never go away. We utterly condemn illegal persecution of birds of prey and it must stop.”


Previous blogs on this issue:

21 May 2012: Buzzard ‘management trial’ gets govt approval and £375K funding.

23 May 2012: RSPB response to DEFRA’s (illegal) buzzard trial.

24 May 2012: DEFRA responds to public outcry over Buzzard management trial.

30 May 2012: DEFRA backs down on Buzzard ‘management’ trial.

13 June 2012: #Buzzardgate aftermath.

10 January 2013: The buzzard blame game.

23 May 2013: Natural England issues licence to destroy buzzard eggs & nests to protect pheasants.

25 May 2013: New petition: SNH, do not licence buzzard culling in Scotland.

30 May 2013: Two important questions to ask about the buzzard licence applicant.

3 June 2013: Buzzard licencing: turning up the heat.

5 June 2013: Surely the buzzard licence applicant doesn’t have prior convictions for poison offences?

5 June 2013: Natural England says no to buzzard-killing licence.

20 June 2013: Hand in of buzzard petition today at Holyrood.

13 August 2013: Natural England claims release of buzzard licence info ‘not in public interest’.

26 September 2013: Buzzard licence applicant tries for four more licences.

1 October 2013: Why we don’t trust the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

48 thoughts on “Buzzard licence applicant gets High Court approval for judicial review”

  1. Have to laugh at the “David V Goliath” quote…as if anyone would be suprised at the judicury in this country indulging the NGA’s agenda in this area. Numerous cases of criminal gamekeepers let off with barely a slap on the wrist for multiple illegal killings of BOPs. The NGA’s spin on this case is also at variance with the facts of this licence application. Its clear what their real agenda is ie. open season on protected BOPS

      1. Their figure of 300,000 probably comes from the scientific geniuses (ahem) that wrote (made-up) the CA’s BoP report (
        Page 6:
        “Taking a mid-point of 68,000 pairs, that is 136,000 individuals. A pair of buzzards will fledge on average two young, so a further 136,000 birds each year in the autumn, making a population of 272,000 individuals. Given that the majority of buzzards do not breed until their second or third year, there will also be at least 100,000 non-breeding one or two-year-old birds so each autumn there will be in excess of
        300,000 individual buzzards. ”

        I now need to disinfect my computer after viewing CA sites…

      1. I would say the main cause of pheasant deaths wear tweed, look slightly glazed in the eyes and carry shotguns.

  2. “not only to the wellbeing of the countryside and those who work there but also ultimately to its wildlife.” And exactly what effect on wellbeing of countryside and its wildlife does releasing several million pheasant a year have?

  3. The real issue that needs to be addressed here is why birds that are reared to be shot are regarded as livestock.

  4. The lunatics are increasingly in charge of the asylum…The real agenda here is to scare Natural England into doing everything that the shooting lobby wants, by showing that they will drag them into court every timer they make a fair decision in favour of wildlife.Its worked with SSSI damage cases throughout the UK where the conservation agencies have always been terrified of losing and costing a government money.

    1. They are that. The government, the royal family, the landowners they all shoot. Money talks and the weakest suffer for it.

  5. I don’t use profanities but I can feel an exception coming on. B********ks.

    Where does a self employed gamekeeper get the money for a high court case? I can’t believe the NGO has the sort of money required. This is clearly a test case for the other pheasant killing types. All to allow the rich to trample over our laws and concerns.

    Young pheasants that would be targets for buzzards should be in cages, where protection from predators is in force. They cannot claim them to be livestock when free to roam, can they??? Or is this another quirk in the money grabbing, gun fodder raising, lead poisoning, criminal sheltering industry?

    It must be stopped.

    I’m fuming, ****.

    1. The NGO say they’re funding it:
      “n answer to your questions (italicized paragraph 2 added above), the Judicial Review is being funded by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation. The court is not being asked to ‘over-rule legislation’, it is being asked whether the existing legislation in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is being correctly implemented by the wildlife licensing authority, Natural England. See more on this at:

  6. If you have a problem with badgers or bats you have to get a specialist in to deal with them. I hope they will apply that to any “necessary” control of raptors. When he see the cost of that the impact of the buzzards might not be quite so great.
    What are the preventative steps he has taken.
    Netting pen tops, correct siting and correct ground cover have proved to limit buzzard damage to below 5% of stock.
    If that is the cost of doing it then put the prices up or tell the guns to expect 5% less birds overhead. This is a leisure sport not a necessity.

    I think we should cull daily deal websites like Groupon. They are having a serious impact on my falconry experience day sales and are a threat to my livelihood! Can I have a licence please?

    1. This gamekeeper, and former criminal, has repeatedly refused to roof his pens, and this refusal to take such a simple, preventative measure has had the full support of the National Gamekeepers Organisation.

      The NGO, along with other similar criminal supporting organisations, have again clearly demonstrated an unwillingness to operate within the law, and are deliberately creating conflict in a sly attempt to get protected species placed onto a legalised hit list.

      1. Wow, so he won’t put a roof on his pens where he rears baby pheasants for cruel people to shoot, yet wants to kill hungry wild birds for looking towards the huge stash of food that he is displaying to them. He sounds like a lovely man.

        1. Not just this gamekeeper, Sally, but more or less the entire pheasant-rearing industry will refuse to provide overhead protection for their birds. As stated, the shooting industry are deliberately seeking conflict, rather that provide measures that would make it virtually impossible for avian predators to have any affect whatsoever.

          1. Marco why would they do that?
            Surely it’s actually less labour intensive to cover the pheasants than it is to ‘manage’ the wildlife?

            1. You are perfectly correct, as it would be less work for them, however, we are dealing with a section of society that has an unhealthy obsession for killing, and in my opinion, their repeated failures to provide overhead cover is also designed to create conflict with true conservationists. The shooting industry will say that they are losing so many hundreds of pheasants from each pen each year, to Buzzards and Sparrowhawks for example, all in a devious attempt to get protected species of raptor onto a list of species that can be killed legally. By getting those two species onto a list would be stepping stone to getting more and more protected species onto such a list (Goshawk, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Kestrel, Pine Marten, Badger, etc).

              1. This is awful Marco. I detest that shooting helpless birds is an industry at all. Although I’m not quite sure how protected a protected species really is, my experience is that an eyewitness report is easily pushed aside by someone that can pay enough to do the pushing.

  7. Has anyone done a study on a) The impact the millions of pheasants released each year has on the environment b) The cost through insurance each year from pheasants striking vehicles?

    1. I asked a friend who works as an insurance assessor for the NFU about this some time ago. He is a birder and a ringer, so obviously is not on the side of the gamekeepers. he said that unfortunately there was no records of the damage game birds did to cars.

  8. Would this be the same Ricky Mcmorn? From the page:

    Gamekeeper Richard McMorn (48) of Ancroft Town Farm near Berwick was arrested following a joint investigation involving Northumbria Police, the RSPB and Natural England, amid fears that the toxins were being used to kill wildlife. At Berwick magistrates on 4/10/07 they heard how McMorn was found to be in possession of a quantity of Yeltox, which had been banned under EC regulations in 2001. He also had a quantity of Cymag which had been banned in 2004 also found was quantities of Phostoxin and Anul Nitrate (Cyanide), two controlled substances which should have been kept under lock and key. McMorn pleaded guilty to four charges of possession/storage of illegal and hazardous pesticides and was fined a total of £600 with £70 costs.

      1. I think if the wannabee raptor killers win this case then consevation bodies will have to look at going to court themselves to block this tactic by the likes of the NGA. Maybe even going as far as Europe given the extremly dubious nature of these “cull” applications that don’t stand up to any impartial scrutiny. I can’t see the ECJ allowing such applications to stand under the EU birds directive.

  9. I hope this chaps previous convictions get a good airing in court. Says alot about the NGA that they are so strongly backing such an individual with a record like that

  10. Hang on a minute – surely the NGA were keen to expel members who were prosecuted for wildlife crime. In the recent Countryfile programme did Mr Thomas not preach that ” All shooting organisations, their stance is very clear, we would expel them from any of our organisations”….

    So how come they are supporting this character?

    Is this not a very poor choice of a horse to back, besides which if he was a keeper who resorted to the use of poisons in the past surely it gives a clear indication of his poor abilities as a keeper and hence his poor assessment and management of the present buzzard situation.

    I despair at the lack of understanding of the basic predator prey relationship in the arguments used by the shooting fraternity. I suspect that there are measures – legitimate and sensible, which are being used by keepers to offset this problem. Perhaps he needs some simple instruction rather than the reach for the gun or poison approach.

      1. The answer is simple. He wasnt prosecuted. Whilst he was found to have a controlled substance in his car there was no evidence to show it was being used to kill wildlife. Those charges were dropped.

        The NGO are supporting this case because of the inconsistency in their dealing with the application. Irrespective of your or anyone else valid views on the entire industry, a governing body has failed to act accordingly and that is why it has gone to the high court

        1. Actually, he was prosecuted and subsequently convicted at Berwick Magistrate Court on 27/9/07 as follows:

          1 x charge under FEPA (1985) Sec 16 (12) (A): unapproved storage of Carbofuran. Guilty. £300 fine & £70 costs.

          3 x charges under FEPA (1985) Sec 16 (12) (A): unapproved use of Carbofuran, unsafe storage of Phostoxin and storage of Cymag. Guilty. £300 fine.

          You are correct in that he wasn’t prosecuted for poisoning wildlife because there was no evidence. Hardly surprising really – criminal gamekeepers don’t often leave their victims lying around to be found (unless they’re exceptionally stupid) and more often than not will remove them (cf the recent case of gamekeeper Allen Lambert at Stody Estate – investigators found 9 poisoned buzzards inside a game feed sack on Lambert’s quad bike at the estate. No doubt he was in the process of getting rid of the evidence).

          Perhaps you can explain why, if your Father wasn’t using the poison to kill wildlife, he was carrying Carbofuran, the gamekeepers’ poison of choice, in his vehicle? Don’t tell us, he was on his way to the pesticide disposal unit…

          Nevertheless, your Father, Tricky Dicky, was convicted. His conviction still stood at the time he first applied to NE for a buzzard-killing licence, supported by the NGO. There are two things that interest us about this (apart from the obvious issue of the legalised killing of a native species for the purpose of protecting a non-native species bred & released in their millions for leisure-shooting), and we have blogged about them extensively (see links in main blog article above):

          1. That the NGO did not expel Tricky from their club, even though he was convicted of poison offences and the NGO has repeatedly claimed that convicted criminal gamekeepers will not be tolerated either within their organisation or within the wider game-shooting industry;

          2. That having a criminal conviction for poison offences is no barrier to successfully applying to Natural England for a licence to ‘control’ (kill) a protected species.

          We’ll be watching the subsequent judicial review with great interest.

              1. Maybe he just enjoys collecting banned pesticides and looking at them in their shiny containers in his garden shed. Seems to be a popular past time with a certain breed of Gamekeeper.

  11. On the efficacy of controlling buzzards I found a good article, 3 pages of very understandable stuff.

    Pheasants, buzzards, and trophic cascades

    I had to read up on trophic levels on Wikipedia first.

    One simple point from the article points to the keeper who shot 100 buzzards in 6 months on one estate and the obvious fact that culling a few is a waste of time. It also goes into why the buzzard is perhaps an ally.

    A good read if you haven’t seen it before.
    Some interesting and helpful stuff for keepers too.

  12. I see the NGO are making much of this on their own FB page. Maybe someone would like to ask them why they are so strongly supporting a gamekeeper with serious convictions with regards to banned pesticides??

      1. Very interesting. These people really have zero credibility on such issues and I hope the judge in this case shows them the door for wasting everyone’s time.

  13. Just to put things into perspective, let’s assume the figure of max 79000 Pairs of Buzzards in the UK is correct, that figure pales into insignificance when compared to the 2.3 Million female Pheasants and who knows how many Million males living and breeding in the UK and the 40 Million plus birds bred and released every year just to be shot. There are also approx. 230,000 pairs of highly pampered Red Grouse floating around on the hard up shooting estate moorlands trying desperately to avoid the measly number of approximately 600 pairs of Hen Harriers spread throughout the UK, only 4 pairs of which were allowed to breed in England this year. Let’s see now, that’s 380 pairs of grouse for every pair of harriers and they still want to kill them, doesn’t make sense does it ???

    The shooting establishment should be totally ashamed of themselves for the criminal wildlife persecution they are carrying on, they have no thought whatever for the irreparable damage they are doing to Britain’s indigenous protected species and the environment that supports them. Instead of these persistent wildlife killers being allowed to legitimise the killing of our protected birds of prey we should be lobbying the government to put a stop to these huge unnaturally high numbers of so-called game birds being allowed to destroy our wildlife and the environment in the dubious name of “sport”.

    1. Is the BTO’s population figure referring to pairs or individuals? I couldn’t see any indication in the BTO report of their figure (between 56 and 79,000) being pairs. The CA have of course interpreted it as pairs and then multiplied it by a number to get a nice big round number which suits their agenda.

      1. According to the published BTO list – (UK B 57,000–79,000 P). where UK = All areas, B = Breeding, P = Pairs.

        So the average number of breeding pairs of Buzzards in the whole of the UK is approximately 68000 Pairs of birds, (136,000 individuals).

        1. Incidentally, that’s just one pair of Buzzards to every 3.6 acres of ground throughout the whole UK, compare that to approximately 188 Pheasants for every acre of ground in the UK !!!

          1. Have you got your arithmetic correct? If you have I should have approx six buzzards over and 1,880 pheasants on my 10 acre field. Given I have an occasional few and the fields around likewise the concentration somewhere means you couldn’t walk without standing on them.

            Time to get the calculator out again.

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